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Warriors coach O’Leary looks back on impressive Central Division road swing

Moose Jaw caps sweep of top teams in Central Division with impressive 8-1 win in Edmonton on Tuesday night
Warriors Saskatoon Firkus Yager goal cel
Jagger Firkus and Brayden Yager both had impressive showings throughout the weekend.

The Moose Jaw Warriors have had many a game this season where for all their hard work, the results just weren’t there.

Teams would score opportunistic goals at the worst time, chances of their own would be thwarted by a hit post or miraculous save, and too often the combination would lead to a tough loss.

But through it all, the Warriors just kept plugging along, using their effort to keep them in games and grind out enough wins to hover around the .500 mark.

That past weekend was a different story.

The Warriors had just about everything click, putting together a three-game sweep of the top teams in the Central Division that included an impressive 8-1 win over the powerhouse Edmonton Oil Kings on Tuesday night.

As a result, the Warriors now find themselves holding a 21-16-3-1 record -- good enough for fourth place in the Eastern Conference -- to go along with a four-game winning streak and points in eight of their last 10 games.

“It started early in the road trip with our effort and our compete level and it all fell into place against Edmonton, where our effort and compete was there and so was our execution of the skill,” said Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary. “That’s the goal all along, to start with hard work and let the skill take over from there, and last night we did that against a really good team.”

Daemon Hunt and Jagger Firkus gave the Warriors a 2-0 lead out of the opening frame, and after Dylan Guenther scored for Edmonton early in the second period, it was all Warriors from there.

Brayden Yager went absolutely off through the remainder of the game, scoring twice and finishing the contest with five points. The 16-year-old now has 20 goals and 39 points in 37 games to sit third in rookie scoring in the WHL.

Firkus capped his showing with a goal and two assists and is now third in WHL goal scoring with 25 in addition to sitting seventh in overall scoring with 50 points in 41 games.

Ryder Korczak, who had two assists in the game, is right behind Firkus with 14 goals and 48 points to sit 12th in league scoring.

Defenceman Denton Mateychuk also had a solid night with three assists, moving into a tie for first in WHL defenceman scoring with eight goals and 37 points.

Thomas Tien and Majid Khaddoura also scored for the Warriors against the Ice, but one of the players who attracted attention throughout the three-game set was forward Atley Calvert, who was rewarded for his constant hard work with a pair of goals.

“You like to think over the course of the season that things even out, and we’ve talked a lot this season about the posts that we’ve hit and chances we’ve missed,” O’Leary said. “You make your own chances the same way you create your own power plays, just by driving, competing and forcing the other team to do things they don’t want to do.

“Atley is a great example of that,” he continued. “You talk about a guy who has hit a lot of posts over the first half of the season, but you can never question his compete level, he leads the team a lot of nights just playing good, hard, honest hockey and not cheating the play. To have the kind of road trip he had is exciting and a good sign that good things happen to good people.”

With the success of the road trip -- which included a 5-4 win over the Red Deer Rebels and 4-1 win over the Calgary Hitmen -- the Warriors will be looking to keep the momentum going when they host the Eastern Conference-leading Winnipeg Ice on Friday, Jan. 28.

“If anything, I hope this gives players confidence in knowing what they can bring if they do it right and they all do it together,” O’Leary said. “That’s what makes our group special, our depth, and if we’re healthy and playing the right way we can roll four lines and six defencemen, and that gets everyone in the offence. Then everyone has been paying attention to their responsibilities in terms of how we want to play defensvely.

“So playing good teams like we saw on this road trip and finding some success, hopefully that gives them confidence in their ability to execute against anyone.”